Mohamed Metwalli

Musical Kitchen

translated by the author

This may be the only musical kitchen in the building…

Here is a plump opera singer who loves food, especially goat meat, leaning against the stove. A goat thigh embedded with garlic cloves is in the oven. She’s singing parts of a modern opera written for her by her poet boyfriend – although this was not the age for poets to write famous operas – but the poet was patting a goat, tied up in a corner of the kitchen, whose turn had not yet come, before leaning on the other side of the stove and gazing appreciatively at his girlfriend’s long lashes, trembling, the pupils shrinking and enlarging as her passion for singing took over.  The aroma of the meat created a sense of  harmony in the room. It was the only hope in a future where artists sleep rough and starve. He placed the music sheets he had just finished on the wooden cutting board, with onions and vegetables, for her. 

The cook – who was a loving mother to them both – opened the oven from time to time, inspiring hope in everyone’s heart; the singer would sing beautifully louder, and the poet’s writing would improve. If the goat panicked and tried to break free,  the cook would bring her a couple of clover sticks in a beautiful bouquet. For it was everyone’s duty to calm the goat, who could smell the roast of her billy, and create a lovely ambiance for her. But the cook’s relationship with the goat was unequalled, even by the singer’s relationship with the poet…She even felt as though she was marinating slices of her own flesh while cooking every meal for them…She never shared with them their banquets…and did not regret it, even if she became thin – as she is now – her bones protruding all over her body…Art Above All.

 The proof is that the two of them placed the medium-rare roast thigh on the table between them outside and busied themselves cutting it up, while the cook was sitting on a low stool in a corner of the kitchen feeling the purgation that follows a Christian self-sacrifice, soaking her apron with tears, while the goat – “the artist” – as the owners of the house used to call her – was gobbling the sheets of music and poetry with great appetite!

Mohamed Metwalli was recognized as poet in the Arab world at a young age for his prose poetry. In 1992, he won the prestigious Yussef el-Khal prize by Riyad el-Rayes Publishers in Lebanon for his poetry collection, Once Upon a Time.  He was selected to represent Egypt in the International Writers’ Program, at the University of Iowa in 1997. Later, he was Poet-in-Residence at the University of Chicago in 1998. He compiled and co-edited an anthology of Off-beat Egyptian Poetry, Angry Voices, published by the University of Arkansas press in 2002.  He published his third collection The Lost Promenades in 2010 by the independent al-Ketaba al-Okhra publications. The same collection was republished by the General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO) in 2013. In 2015, Afaq Publishers, published his collection, A Song by the Aegean Sea.